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Maine Attraction, page 4

Maine Attraction, page 4

This born-and-bred Vermonter thought he knew a little bit about Maine. But a road trip to the ski areas in the heart of the pine tree state—Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Saddleback—made him realize ...
By Joe Cutts
posted: 12/21/2009

Moose at the Matterhorn

The snowfall doesn’t amount to much—about three inches of wet stuff. And it’s misting heavily when I board the Sugarloaf Superquad the next morning. I’m virtually alone on the mountain for at least the first hour. It’s weird having such a huge resort to myself. The conditions aren’t what most people would describe as excellent. But in a way they are. The layer of overnight slop softens the deep spring bumps nicely. It’s the end of the season, and my legs are as strong as they ever are, so I make it a bump day, run after run, testing my conditioning, working on my technique. Bubblecuffer, Gondola Line, Boomauger, White Nitro…I’m not familiar enough with Sugarloaf to know which are normally groomed and which, if any, are the mogul classics, but today they’re all good, even on twin-tips way too fat for zipper lines. The sheer number of trails is staggering—and especially bewildering in the fog. For variety, I take a couple spins down Narrow Gauge, Sugarloaf’s signature race trail. It looks like it was groomed yesterday, but given the conditions and the visibility, I ultimately prefer the slower speeds of the mogul runs. Even though the famous Snowfields are closed—I’m about a week too late—I hardly miss them.

By early afternoon, I’m thoroughly bumped out. I spend some time watching the British kids learn to ski on the novice slopes near the base. They’re having a blast, unfazed by the weather, which probably makes them feel right at home. Then I walk back to the hotel. A great day, despite the conditions.  

Next morning—sunny and cold now—I’m back in the car early, rested but not quite awake until I find that coffee machine in Stratton. It’s the final day of my Maine ski safari, but the one I’ve looked forward to most. The plan is to ski Saddleback, about an hour’s drive from Sugarloaf, then zoom down to the coast and be in my skiff before sunset. The moon will be full tonight, and the idea of skiing and then opening up the summer place in the same day greatly appeals to me. Plus, I’ve never skied Saddleback.

What I didn’t expect was such a jaw-droppingly beautiful drive. This stretch of Route 16 is so remote, it’s hard to imagine that it exists for anyone other than Sugarloaf-Saddleback commuters. The views are long and lovely—huge forested tracts leading up to distant ridgelines. There are a few old farms—or what look like old farms converted to vacation homes—but other than that, it’s remote forestland and staggering scenery. What traffic I see is mostly logging trucks.

Soon I’m in Rangeley, beginning to see what the fuss is about. The town lies at the heart of the Rangeley Lakes region, a popular summer destination, especially loved by anglers. Its village hugs the shore, alongside marinas, summer cottages and waterfront resorts. The lake fills the bottom of a broad basin rimmed with mountains, including Saddleback on the east side, and as I head up the long access road toward the resort, the views behind me grow more expansive.


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